Exploring the eastern side of Visayas was a long-delayed pre-pandemic plan. It was an easy pick when restrictions were relaxed, coupled by the pressure to use flight tickets that were due to expire. The planning was quick so there were a lot of blind turns along the way. In the end, it was a trip that got me going back to the basics and getting drenched in the rain just to bring #BiliranToYou.
The island of Biliran was once known as Isla de Panamao where the first large-scale shipyard was established in the 17th century to support the Galleon Trade between Manila and Acapulco. It later adopted the name Biliran in the turn of the 18th century, in reference to the native grass, “borobiliran”, which grew in abundance on the island. It was once a sub-province of Leyte and it was only in 1992 that it was granted its provincial status making it one of the newest provinces in the country.
With a total land area of 536 square kilometers, the province of Biliran is the fourth smallest province in the country. It is composed of two major volcanic islands - Biliran and Maripipi. Its rustic feature remains off radar among mainstream travelers largely because it is often overshadowed by the more “popular” beach attractions in Leyte. But don’t be deceived by its rustic vibe because Biliran has its own attractions that will impress you and would make you want to explore the island more.
The Biliran Bridge is the first attraction to greet you when you find yourself in Biliran. The steel bridge connects the province to Leyte via Poro Island. The bridge spans the channel that connects Biliran Strait and Coalargo Bay.
Complete in 1975 under the Marcos Sr. Administration, the Biliran Bridge spans about 150 meters across the channel. It gives you a good view of the waters that sandwich the province. It serves as the only bridge that connects the province to the rest of the country. It has become an attraction in the province with tourists taking photos of the structure that welcomes you to the province.
Ulan-Ulan Falls is one of the popular tourist destinations in Biliran. The name was derived from the local dialect that means “rain” because of the mist created from its cascade is similar to rain droplets. It is easily accessible via a habal-habal ride if you are doing DIY.
Located in the hinterlands, guests would need to hike for 5 minutes through a dirt trail from the jump off point. The slippery trail leads down to the base of Ulan Ulan Falls where you get to enjoy its beauty. The water cascades from a height of 25 meters creating a mist as it reaches the base. You can get refreshed from the exploring by taking a cold dip in its catch basin. I enjoyed the feel of the cold spring waters on my skin while I enjoyed and connected with nature.
Ulan-Ulan Falls is surrounded by the Biliran’s tropical forest giving it a more ethereal and relaxing vibe. It was very relaxing to close eyes and feel the cold water on my skin while enjoying the sound of water cascading. I guess the cascade was not in full force during my visit as the mist by its base was not as how the guide described it to us. But it was nice to have all my senses connect with nature at Ulan-Ulan Falls.
Sampao Rice Terraces
If you think that rice terraces are only found in the Cordilleras, you are wrong. Biliran has its own version. The Sampao Rice Terraces is just one of the terraces that you can find in the province. It is also a traditional way of planting that has been passed on from generation to generation.
The Sampao Rice Terraces is a terrace field along the hillside of Almeria. The man-made agricultural wonders were hand crafted by early settlers that has been handed down to the present generation. The rugged terrains of this volcanic island paved the way to the construction of these terraces to get better yields in agricultural production. The terraces may not be as breathtaking as those found in the Cordilleras but it has more than just an efficient way of farming for locals. The terraces are now attractions in Biliran.
Pundol Falls is a waterfalls attraction that will make you go up against your fear. Located within the hinterlands, the falls can be accessed after scrambling over boulders from the jump-off point. I didn’t have a guide when I started out as my guide had to watch over my bag when we got to the jump-off. I just followed the sound of the cascade to get to the base of the falls.
Unlike Ulan-Ulan Falls, Pundol Falls has a single cascade and a very deep basin. The water cascades stronger before flowing downstream. It is also surrounded by tropical forests giving guests a good shade from the sun. Locals were enjoying a swim in the cold waters of the Pundol Falls. A group of brave young boys were clambering up the adjacent rock walls of the walls. I was wondering what they were up to when one of the boys jumped into the basin. He jumped from a height of almost 3 or 4 floors of a building!!! I was amazed by the bravery of these kids jumping from that height. The basin must be really deep to safely do a jump from that height.
As I was heading back to the jump-off point, I was humbled by the warm reception of the locals. They were smiling and they greeted back when I greeted them. It was a Saturday and the locals were enjoying the natural beauty of Pundol Falls. Ahhh… these are the simple perks that we all miss out in the city.
Sambawan Island is THE tourism icon of the province of Biliran. Most travelers who get curious with the province target this string of islets located off the coast of Maripipi Island. It is one of the most photogenic and dramatic spots in the country especially during the sunset.
An hour by boat from Kawayan Port in Biliran Island, Sambawan Island was able to keep its pristine beauty. A small dive resort on the island provides guests with the basic amenities for a day or overnight trip to the island. The best view of the island is on its highest point, a 10-minute trek along a concrete pathway, where you can see the string of islets with Maripipi Island on the background. The view on the other side is the “tail” of the main island and another island with the sea as its backdrop. The sunset gave us a good view on both sides.
Sambawan Island is a perfect spot to unwind or reset from our busy, sometimes toxic, life in the city. It offers an escape that allows you to slow down and connect with nature. You get to enjoy basic island living and gives you the appreciation on the simple things in life. You get to enjoy a perfect combination of sand, sea, and sun while keeping you grounded with nature.
You can check out my separate blog on my Sambawan here: Wow Sambawan! (An Election Request)
POST TRAVEL NOTES
I enjoyed the sun, sand, the cold spring water, and getting drenched by the rain in Biliran. My short stay in the island got me excited that I want to go back and explore more of its beauty. It deserves more than a day to explore what it has to offer to travelers like me. Biliran is my kind of destination where its rustic vibe and pristine beauty is worthy of more time and exposure. It is a gem waiting for its turn for the spotlight.
I am excited as we start seeing the pick-up in the tourism sector with a more relaxed community quarantine. This is the time to explore beyond the usual destinations and help in building or re-building local businesses. I am looking forward to exploring more off-beat destinations. Destinations that give me rustic and pristine views of nature.
Getting there: Biliran can be reached by taking a flight to Tacloban from any local airline hub in the Philippines like Manila and Cebu. You can then take a trike from the airport to Savemore in Tacloban City. A van terminal is located behind Savemore where you can take a van to Naval in Biliran.
For ease of travel, you can contact Sambawan Island at (0965) 427 9035. For local tours in Biliran, you can contact Kuya Jovy at (0905) 462 5753.
I needed to reset after this very divisive National Elections. Like most people, I am jubilant with the outcome but I cannot deny that I have been served some toxicity and judgement from other people because of my candidate preference. I needed a break to release the tension that I have kept for so long and traveling is my primary outlet. I had to get wowed and then there was Sambawan.
Sambawan Island is a group of islets off the coast of Maripipi in the province of Biliran. It is largely uninhabited except for a small diving resort that offer basic amenities. It is the tourism icon of the province, owing it to having one of the most photogenic spots in the country.
Back To Basics
The road to Sambawan was not a walk in the park. The longer route would entail taking an hour flight from to Tacloban, a four hour land trip to Kawayan in Biliran, and, finally an hour of boat ride to the island. It was physically tiring but it was the kind that excites me because it gives you that feeling as if you are a contestant in an amazing race game.
The east side of the island is where you could find the sandy coves where the diving resort is located. However, do not expect much from the resort apart from the very basic amenities and, by basic, I mean sleeping on papag. I did not expect this as I had no prior contact with them. I came in unprepared except for the usual malong that I had with me. Sleeping on a hard bamboo flooring wasn’t really the most comfortable experience but it was humbling.
The caretaker shared with me that they had just acquired the island from the original hosts. Most of the basic amenities were stripped off. Fresh water can be bought for Php40 per small drum. Electricity only run until 10pm. There’s only a small “canteen” but supplies are limited. You need to either buy food from the Kawayan or bring food to cook in the island.
A Perfect View From The Top
After settling down and getting over the initial shock, I prepped to head up the highest peak of Sambawan Island. This is the spot that you would often see from those who have already been to the island. A three-minute of huffing and puffing along the cemented trails will bring you to this famous spot in the island.
The view from the top was just jaw-dropping. The view deck gives you two amazing views of two sides of the islets. The north side gives you a scenic trail of islets with Maripipi looming on the background. The south side gives you a relaxing view of two large islets with the sea as it background. The north view is the most photographed view of Sambawan. The vantage point also gives you the ruggedness of Sambawan’s landscape and the turquoise waters surrounding it.
The view gets even better as the sun sets on the horizon as the golden rays hits the island. The glowing yellow-orange color give the landscape a dramatic glow that stands out against the blue waters and sky. It was just magical that had me getting another round of pictures. The island has a good view of the sunrise and the sunset. Unfortunately, the sunrise was not as good as the sunset as rainclouds covered the mountain top of Maripipi the next morning.
A small elevated kubo was installed atop the hill where you can rest while enjoying the views and the feel of the sea breeze on your skin. I enjoyed getting a much-needed summer tan while getting immersed with nature. The breeze was just refreshing. The views and the fresh air was a welcome break from all the toxicity of the city and the recently concluded national elections.
Back On The Ground
You can access two sandy coves on the island. The bigger cove has the basic camping facilities. You can find a cozy spot by the beach where you can enjoy enjoy the sun, sand, and sea. You can enjoy the view while sipping hot coffee in the morning or go for a drink with friends in the afternoon or evening.
If you are up for a more quiet spot, a wooden bridge snakes through the rock edge of the island that leads to the smaller cover. Take extra precaution when you climb down from the bridge onto its rocks. An even smaller cove is found adjacent to it. I was not able to explore the area since it was already getting pretty dark when I attempted to explore it.
You also get to enjoy a cool dip under the sun in the turquoise waters of Sambawan. The sand is a combination of white sand, shells, and corals so walking barefoot can be quite uncomfortable. Take extra precaution when swimming as water gets deep a few meters from the shoreline. I enjoyed just floating and letting the salt water energize me.
You can still see traces of how the island was damaged by the typhoon - a destroyed hut needing repairs and a destroyed cemented docking station (I think). The owners of the island is still re-building from what was left. It was good that tourists are starting to explore the island which helps them in their efforts.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Sambawan Island gave me my much-needed reset from all the toxicity of the current events. It made me stop and breathe. It energized me by grounding me back through nature’s beauty and getting me back to the basics. The trip was not a comfortable one and, neither, was the overnight stay. There were blind curve balls through the experience. But it did remind me that whatever the circumstances that we face, we should always choose to accept, adjust, and move on. That is how we live and enjoy life.
Find time to go for a reset. We all need one to break the monotony of our daily lives or to break the pandemic stress or to shut off the toxicity of the national elections. Go to your favorite corner and just shut down. Get yourself connected and grounded with nature. Release the stress and let the earth recharge you. Exploring is my form of reset. Go and find your reset.
Getting there: If you are planning to go to Sambawan Island, you need to take a flight to Tacloban City from any major hub in the country. You then take a van from Tacloban City to Naval in Biliran. You then take a public jeep/bus or hire a tricycle or habal-habal to Kawayan Port. You then need to hire a boat 9 (round trip) for the hour-long trip to Sambawan Island. Make sure that you make the pick-up arrangement with your bangkero.
For ease of travel, you can contact Sambawan Island at (0965) 427 9035.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.